Tanzania: School Feeding Programmes Can Boost Girls' Ability

This piece was originally published on AllAfrica.com. Written by Deogratias Mushi.

In 2009, the United Nations estimated that 60 per cent of the world's chronically hungry people were women and girls, 98 per cent of whom were living in developing nations.

This result is, many girls drop out of school or perform poorly, hence denied opportunities to aspire for higher levels of education. When girls go hungry in Ward secondary schools, they will not have enough energy for going through all school activities, as a result they will either sleep or abscond from school.

In the end, they will drop out. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and Cooperatives, Engineer Christopher Chiza once said that one of the reasons contributed to extreme poor results of the 2012 Form Four National examinations was poor feeding. He argued that due to inadequate food in schools, students could not concentrate on studies with empty stomachs hence poor performance.

In order to curb the situation, says Mr Chiza, there is a need to have effective policies on land and water management and use, agriculture production and environment protection.

He insisted that public education should ensure that girls in Ward schools obtain adequate food to support their physical and cognitive growth, and this should be given and emphasised.

According to Masozi Nyirenda who is a specialist in education planning, economics of education and policy studies, school feeding programmes are social safety nets that provide both educational and health benefits to girls, thereby increasing enrollment rates, reducing absenteeism, and avoiding child marriages.

"Beyond improvements in access to food, school feeding programmes also have a positive impact on nutritional status, gender equity, and educational status, each of which contributes to improving overall levels of country and human development" he says.

While school meals in Tanzania today are provided by the government, girls who may benefit most from school feeding programs are in lowincome villages where parents do not have some reliable incomes. School meals in Tanzania have been shown to increase the nutritional status of ward school girls in variety of ways.

Overall, the amount of kilocalories in a girl's diet is expanded when they are given nutritional resources that they would otherwise have little to no access to. According to Nyirenda, increasing the amount of nutrition a girl receives at ward school, that child's family's nutrition status also increases as their familial demand and requirement for food is decreased.

"Targeted take-home rations therefore increase the nutrition of the family as a whole, and not just the members of a given family that are of primary- school age" he says.

However, criticisms of school meals' impacts on nutrition stem from the idea that increased nutrition through school meals is only a temporary fix and does not target the underlying causes of malnutrition, such as high food prices and poor food distribution systems that prevent food security.

All in all, girls in Ward school for better performance. According to Nyirenda, education is a key component in school feeding programs and global development because overall, a more educated person has an increased amount of opportunities in life, earns more money, and has a higher standard of living than an uneducated individual.

School meals greatly impact recipient girls' education status by increasing school enrollment and attendance, decreasing drop-out rates, and improving cognitive abilities and learning achievements. Generally, sending girls to a school in which school-meals are served offsets the financial and opportunity costs of schooling, and thus families are incentivized to send their children to school.

Karatu district in Arusha region has set a very good example to set a programme that provides food to students in ward schools. Additionally, school feeding programs may serve as an incentive for students to go to school to receive food rather than missing out on food by staying home.

The increased nutrition status of girls as a result of school feeding programs, also enhances her cognitive abilities and performance in school. School feeding programs have the capacity to increase gender equity in access to education, which allows for gender equity across all spheres of social and economic life.

There are a variety of reasons that girls' education is impacted by factors on both the supply and demand side of schooling. These include genderstereotyped curriculum and teaching practices, increased risks for girls' safety outside of the house, socio-cultural practices that cause girls' education to hold a very low value, and school infrastructure that is not suitable for girls.

Due to the combination of such barriers, girls are disproportionately affected by the direct and opportunity cost of schooling, which prevents girls from very poor households from attending school. Opportunity costs for girls' education include lost time that would otherwise be spent doing household chores and care work.

School feeding programs reduce the costs of sending girls to school and allow for an increased number of girls to be sent to school by their families. Furthermore, improvements in female literacy that come from increased education have been linked to declining rates of fertility, increased economic opportunities, and other markers of female empowerment.

While school feeding programmes have a variety of positive impacts, there are some possible negative impacts they can cause. For example, school feeding programmes can increase the cost of schooling by requiring that communities provide fire-wood for cooking as well as other items such as freshfruit, vegetables, and condiments.

Additionally, communities are also expected to provide people who can cook these meals and maintain stores of all of the required food products, as well as kitchens and other fundamentals of meal provision. By causing a variety of needs and requirements to increase in a given community, the net benefit to a community from school feeding programmes may be reduced.

School feeding programmes are very context-specific, and each community's programme has to be altered based on the demographics, geography, and other patterns within and outside of schools. For this reason, there are a variety of challenges that emerge in the creation and implementation of school feeding programmes.

In order to have a successful programme, countries must determine if school feeding is the most effective programme that can be offered to target the countries' neediest children, define programme goals and outcomes, select the type of food that will be served in a school, determine a method of procurement for the food, plans for management, implementation, and monitoring within schools, and plan for a variety of other concerns.

Because school feeding programs are community-specific and require a great deal of planning, the sustainability of school feeding programmes is a main point of concern for many countries.

Though there are a variety of anticipated impacts that can come from school feeding, as mentioned above, much research and evaluation is being done to determine the results of school feeding programmes in low-income countries.

The results of school feeding programmes are often context- specific, but many lessons can be considered in a variety of communities in order to evaluate the effectiveness of school feeding programs. Researchers at the International Food Policy Research Institute have critically assessed evidence from developing countries in order to define preliminary results of these programmes.

These assessments found that the timing of meals is not a critical factor in the positive effects on learning and cognition, and thus take-home rations can perform as well as in-school meals, and that in-school meal may even disrupt learning.

In some settings, takehome rations are more costeffective than in-school meals, and the study argued that some country programmes may be optimised by focusing resources on take-home rations.

Additionally, it was found that in the study setting, school attendance improved learning more significantly than nutrition status improvements, but that school feeding programmes encouraged attendance and still have a positive net result on education levels.

Photo credit:Flickr: DFATD